Consequential Faith

I just returned last night after six days on a mission trip with some of our youth. It was a fabulous trip. I hope, pray, and plan that we will have more youth going on this next year. The word “mission” simply means to be sent. We were sent this week to San Antonio. The trip was successful because WE were transformed and so were the people to whom we were sent. In short it was a trip with very positive outcomes.

Just before we embarked on this mission trip, Grace Episcopal Church in Muskogee enjoyed a bit of positive publicity where a Facebook post on Channel 8 in Tulsa referred to Grace as a very tolerant, accepting and loving community. I mention this because there are consequences to who we are and what we do. We want Grace Episcopal Church in Muskogee to form our youth and adults in ways that matter. Through regular Sunday worship, through our education and formation programs, and through mission work we form people around the heart of Christ. We want our children and our adults to have a faith that matters. I call this “consequential faith.”

But if current national trends continue, more than 50% of young people raised as evangelicals or as mainline Protestants will leave their Christian faith entirely. Research reveals that they leave the faith NOT because of the influence of culture, but because of what we teach them in church! Amazingly, BOTH mainline Protestants like our own church here, AND evangelicals are sending a message to our youth loud and clear. Here is what we teach them: “Faith is not important in your everyday life. Your religious identity is completely private and up to you. It is kind of like whether you choose to celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, Easter or Passover. Your faith commitment amounts to having good self-esteem and being kind to others.”

I grant you that these are all good things to do, but what do we teach our children that has truly important consequences for their life? How can this milk toast teaching of our faith ever compete against truly pressing global needs such as hunger, disease, water supply, and the treatment of women and children? The answer, of course, is that a milk toast faith will never compete with such pressing issues. If we do not change what we are doing, then we will end up with well-intentioned children who may be passionate about issues that engage them, but who essentially have no faith.

The faith tradition that we pass on to our children has become a bland, feel-good, and completely unimportant kind of Christianity. One writer calls this a “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

So what do we need to do in order to pass on to our children a lively faith that has positive consequences in their lives and the lives of others?

This mission trip is a first step. Why?

First we spent two days at Good Samaritan Community Center. Started by the Episcopal Diocese there in 1951 in a very poor Latino community, Good Samaritan has helped thousands of adults and children every year with meals, after school programs, tutoring, computer classes, music classes, art classes, supervised playgrounds, senior programs, counseling, social work, and other programs.

Some of the children have absent fathers while others may have fathers in jail. If you could have seen the sheer delight and glow on their faces when our kids played with them, you would know what transformation is. You would be witnessing a true miracle.

Next we spent two days at Mission Road; a residential institution serving the needs of about a thousand intellectually and developmentally disabled people every year. At the end of our visit, one of the staff there told us how important it was for us to volunteer there and work one on one with the residents (mostly kids). Many of them are “mainstreamed” where they attend public school. In school and in public, these kids are used to having other make fun of them. They may have a variety of disabilities, but they have feelings and they know the sting of humiliation. The staff person told us that our kids simply sat down with them and worked with them with no judgments or humiliation. We displayed a sense of acceptance these kids rarely experience from others.

For two days, our kids simply gave the love of Christ to others, accepting them on their own terms. I can stand before you today and tell you that for a hundred kids at Mission Road this week, it was a miracle even more consequential than feeding five thousand.

We can teach all kinds of Bible stories, theology, history and doctrine, but I think what we need to do is far simpler than that. We need to teach and DO three things:

Engage in mission – We need to be sent. We need to engage in the work of Christ for others NOT because we are going to fill someone’s belly or make them fell accepted, but because by sharing the love of Christ, we will ALL be transformed.

Give sacrificially – Our youth and the adults gave of their time this week. All of us could have done other things, but we chose to spend a week in San Antonio. A lively, consequential faith is one where we give not just from our excess but where we actually give up something precious to us. We give sacrificially of our time, talent, and treasure.

Work compassionately – The motivation for mission and sacrifice should not have anything to do with getting to heaven, being saved or even doing something FOR someone else. The motivation needs to be simple human compassion. When we read in the Bible that Jesus had compassion for the crowd or the Samaritan had compassion to the victim he found on the road, the word in the original text is far more graphic. It says literally that his guts were moved with emotion. I can tell you that this week, our kids and the adults were moved with compassion on a daily basis.

Mission, sacrifice, and compassion: that’s all we need to pass on to our children. Would you like to help?